10 Feb Happiness and Money: What Elizabeth Taylor’s Life Reveals
Famous American film actress Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1932 in London to American parents who soon returned home. When she was nine, in 1941, she signed her first contract with Universal Movies. Her career as an actress had begun. For the next 16 years, she played impressive roles in dozens of films, and received huge sums of money as her salaries.
In 1944, she played a role in Jane Eyre, as well as a small part in The White Cliffs of Dover. In 1945, her passionate performance in National Velvet brought her a new contract and a salary of $1,200 per month. She had thus become her family’s major breadwinner. Acknowledging her success, Life magazine featured her in a cover story on her thirteenth birthday, in 1945.
In 1946, Taylor starred in The Courage of Lassie, and in 1947 it was the Broadway hit Life with Father -as well as Cynthia, where she had her first kiss in screen. In Cynthia, she performed a very touching role, and the film had enormous success. As a result, the studio now treated her “like a beautiful princess, kept behind protected walls.”
The successes continued. In 1948 she starred in the films A Date with Judy and Julia Misbehaves, while in 1949 there were the Little Women and the Conspirator. In 1950 there were two more films: the Big Hangover and Father of the Bride, which became an immediate box-office hit. The same year, Taylor announced her engagement to hotel heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, “America’s most eligible bachelor,” and they got married on May 6 of that year. She was 18 and he was 23.
Though Taylor became soon disillusioned with her marriage -after only seven months, she asked for a divorce- she was completely undisturbed by that fact, and she continued to play starring roles. In 1951, she appeared in A Place in the Sun with Montgomery Clift, and the film met with much critical acclaim. After her divorce, she starred in Love Is Better Than Ever (1952), where she had a love affair with Stanley Donen, the director of the film. Soon after, Taylor starred -in London this time- in the extravagant film Ivanhoe (1952), where she fell in love with Michael Wilding, the British star of cinema. Wilding was married, but after his divorce -early in 1952- he and Taylor got married. A year later, she had her first child.
In 1954, Taylor appeared in other major productions, including Beau Brummel and Elephant Walk. But by 1955, when her second son was born, her marriage to Wilding began to deteriorate. He was out of work and his nonchalance about it disturbed Taylor. It was in this situation when she met the famous producer and showman Mike Todd, 49 years old, who soon proposed marriage. Dazzled, she separated from Wilding, then, married Todd, early in 1957. Soon after her marriage, she began living a much more lavish lifestyle. Todd wined and dined her with champagne and caviar, showered her with diamonds and furs, and made his Rolls Royce and private plane available.
But from 1958 on, a bad season started for Elizabeth. On a blustery night in March 1958, Mike Todd’s plane was engulfed in fog over New Mexico and fell to the ground, killing everyone aboard. The man who had enthralled Taylor was gone forever, after only a year of marriage. After having learned the terrible news, Elizabeth became hysterical: in her nightgown, she ran down the stairs heading to the front door, where she collapsed.
From now on, Taylor’s private life would be in ruins. Immediately after Todd’s funeral, his best friend, singer Eddie Fisher, was sent by his wife -actress Debbie Reynolds- to comfort Taylor. Soon, however, “their counseling sessions turned into something more,” her biographer Larissa Branin says. By the next year, Fisher admitted publicly that he and Taylor had become lovers -and after the Fisher-Reynolds divorce, they “conducted their affair openly and defiantly.”
Those circumstances inevitably caused public animosity and even death menaces. Everywhere Taylor and Fisher went, were heckled by crowds and various organizations upholding decency. Even the pope deemed Taylor a “lascivious, immoral adulterer,” a fact that would nearly ruin her career. And though the couple got married in 1959, nevertheless the event had destroyed Taylor’s chances of obtaining an Oscar for her role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or in Suddenly Last Summer.
Further, Taylor was not happy in this period of her life. While still a newlywed, she confided that: “her marriage to Fisher was clearly a mistake, and though she had tried to keep Mike’s memory alive through Fisher,” she had his ghost only. In the meantime, she had another reason being dissatisfied: Fisher’s career began to deteriorate, he became restless more and more, he spent his time drinking heavily and losing lots of money while he played cards.
That was the state of affairs when Taylor -while filming Cleopatra in Rome in 1962- met famous Welsh actor Richard Burton, playing the role of Marc Antony in the film, and a love affair was kindled between them. Both, however, were married. “La Scandale” was soon known worldwide. And once again, Taylor “was condemned as a wanton woman, a shameless home wrecker.”
And though after their divorce from their respective spouses, she and Burton married -in 1964- their marriage marked only the beginning of a tumultuous period in Taylor’s life. A year before her marriage to Burton, she had signed a million-dollar contract to perform in Cleopatra, receiving also 10 percent of the film’s gross sales. As a result, she had gained in 1965 about $7 million. So, when she and Burton got together, she was “living like a queen.” That lifestyle escalated after their marriage. Both actors commanded huge salaries, and had “a fleet of Rolls Royce, a yacht adorned with original works by famous artists, and later, their own jet.”
But the couple’s lifestyle isolated them from the outside world, and caused them boredom and heavy drinking. At the same time, Taylor had serious health problems -“chronic back pain, sciatica, a partial hysterectomy” – that caused a severe dependence on pain-killing drugs and hard drinking. Soon, she became an addict -a situation that lasted until 1984. All this put big pressure on her marriage, and Burton tried many times to turn things around, but in vain.
Also in her career, Taylor was not as happy as before. Though she won the Academy Award for best actress in 1966 for her role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, critics said that that role “marked the peak of her career, for none of her future roles would match it.” And when the film X, Y and Zee was released in 1972, critics said it was her worst performance.
Later in 1972, also a tragedy came that destroyed Taylor and Burton’s relationship: Burton’s brother died, and he began drinking heavily. Severe quarrels with Taylor followed, and finally Burton was led to adultery. As a result, they separated in 1973. The next year (1974) they were reunited, but Burton “was still succumbing to the charms of other women.” So, Taylor walked out -though she loved Burton very much- and their divorce followed soon after.
In 1975, Taylor remarried Burton. But since nothing had changed in the meantime in Burton’s behavior, Taylor decided to free herself forever from the problems Burton caused her: the couple received the final divorce decree in 1976.
Taylor’s alternations of her life’s seasons reveal that happiness and money do not necessarily match. Though she and Burton both commanded huge salaries -Taylor gained in 1965 about $7 million -they were not happy. The couple’s lifestyle isolated them from the outside world, and caused them boredom and heavy drinking. At the same time, Taylor had serious health problems that caused a severe dependence on pain-killing drugs and hard drinking. So, severe quarrels followed, and finally the couple separated. Money does not necessarily mean, therefore, happiness.